What's Next For Apple News?
Big tech is trying to sort its relationships with publishers.
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Facebook is breaking up with the news...again..... and this time it's for real (probably). Campbell Brown, who led parent company Meta's media partnerships, told colleagues in a memo, seen by the Wall Street Journal, that teams working on the Facebook News tab and Bulletin newsletter products will now "heighten their focus on building a more robust Creator economy."
Other tech giants are very much still in the news space, but it is tricky ground to navigate. In the case of Apple and its News (free) and News+ (paid for) offerings, there is still some working out to be done. A recent paper by Enders Analysis explained :
Apple's priority is to improve the user experience, ultimately driving sales of iOS devices.
Alice Pickthall, one of the authors of the paper, told The Addition that as well as selling more devices, Apple wants "to increase peoples' stickiness within those devices." Providing a news service can contribute to this.
The News app is on iPhones by default. It draws in content from partner publications and the free version makes some otherwise paywalled content available. For example, you can read a limited number of Times articles in the news app without paying. Those who take out a News+ subscription get access to a host of publications for £9.99 per month or as part of the £29.95 per month premier Apple One bundle.
While being part of Apple's ecosystem would seem a good way for publishers to generate revenue from readers they might not otherwise capture, and indeed Pickthall says being part of it can "aid discovery", the Enders report noted a number of issues. These include the fact that the News app is a walled garden which makes it harder for a reader to get to a publisher's website, the reliance on Apple's curation staff to get content seen by readers and the dominance of Apple's branding within the product. This latter is improving, but it can still be hard to immediately know which outlet you are actually reading. This does not really matter to Apple but is not great for publishers.
As turning subscribers into a community becomes increasingly important, some publishers are more focussed on keeping people within their own environment and retaining that precious data. Others, like the Sun, seem happy to gain additional revenue via advertising in the News app, even if a cut goes to Apple. The Sun makes its content free online and is therefore not involved in News+. Its stablemates, the Times and Sunday Times, offer content through both News and News+.
Despite being there by default, it is hard to know how many users really turn to the News app to read stories. For all involved, it could be a case of maximising revenue from a small group. "Users who don't know about News+ probably don't use News [the app] in the first place, or rarely use it," said Pickthall. Those who do use the app are "prompted quite a lot to see articles that are behind the paywall,” she added.
Pickthall also revealed that researchers working on the Enders Analysis paper found that "no UK publishers were doing the same thing" when it comes to dealing with Apple News. However, of the major UK titles they looked into, the Financial Times is the only one with no deal with the tech giant in place. Its app now takes advantage of new App Store rules that allow so-called reader apps, whose focus is on providing digital content for users, to link out of the app and subscribe directly via a website.
Some publishers have tested Apple's offering and then, in a number of cases, stepped away. High-profile examples include the Guardian and the New York Times, although in both instances there were a number of factors behind those decisions.
Pickthall said that "one of the things we did hear, even from those who aren't really engaging that highly with Apple, was that they still have the conversations as something they could potentially come back into...some of the publishers do still have ongoing conversations with people at Apple about potentially returning." In some cases, the potential to return was prompted by the New Partner Program. According to Apple's documentation:
Publishers that work with Apple News may qualify for a commission rate of 15% on qualifying in-app purchase subscriptions from day one.
The standard commission rate is 30%, although it drops to 15% for those earning less than $1 million in a year.
Overall, it seems that, unlike Meta, Apple will be sticking to offering new content for some time to come.